When President Trump holds rallies, one recurring theme song is The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” That might be oddly appropriate when it comes to analyzing what really happened when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it found the proposed Pebble mine would likely cause significant degradation and significant adverse effects to the waters and fisheries of Bristol Bay, and cannot receive a permit under the Clean Water Act as proposed, creating a significant barrier to the project moving forward.
That wasn’t the kill-shot those of us who favor permanent protections of Bristol Bay, Alaska (the world’s most prolific wild salmon fishery) wanted. But make no mistake, it was a game-changer that proves “if you try sometimes, you get what you need.” We needed this one.
I’ve been covering Bristol Bay and the proposed Pebble mine for about 15 years, first for Field & Stream and Angling Trade, and more recently for Trout Unlimited (and Angling Trade). I’ve seen all the ups and downs, and I can tell you, it had never looked bleaker for protecting Bristol Bay’s fishery than it did about a month ago. But then some prominent Republican voices chimed in against the mine, and that created some momentum… boom here we are.
But it’s too soon to take any victory laps. Analysis of media coverage of the announcement (The New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CNN, The Hill, and much more) ranges from “this is the death knell” to “this is a speed bump.” While I share the enthusiasm of the many people from TU to AFFTA, to many other organizations who worked so hard with great effect, the reporter in me still has questions.
I’ve seen this movie before, after all. And the movie is like one of those horror films, when you think the monster or the bad guy is dead and laid out on the floor, only to get up to make one more bloody scream-enticing charge at the protagonist.
We can expect that, and more, from Pebble. Its CEO, Tom Collier, dismissed all this as process, and claims his group will return with a revised plan well within the 90-day window it has to do so.
The rub this time, is that Pebble has to come back with a way to mitigate (improve, replace or fix) the damage it will clearly do to the wetlands and streams in the area. And as Chris Wood, CEO of TU said, that’s an incredibly big lift… you cannot improve, fix or replace what’s already perfect as it is. And Bristol Bay is the world’s perfect salmon fishery.
So, I simply suggest that we all remain vigilant. We don’t try to hip-check each other out of the way trying to claim the spotlight of a great conservation victory for the left or the right. We expect to work hard, be asked to spend money, make our voices heard, and do whatever we can do as an industry and passionate anglers, united. And we must face the harsh reality that the story will not be over until the mine is off the table, in any form or fashion, once and for all, dead and buried… never to be dug up again.
-T. Romano & K. Deeter